KHOU reported today that more than 40 people on a bus filled with Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees suffered injuries when their vehicle hit a highway barrier and overturned in South Texas. Last week, a Houston school bus was carrying elementary students to school when it was involved in a crash. The Houston Chronicle reported that the bus driver was hurt. Fortunately, the students escaped unharmed.
Bus accidents are among some of the worst that can occur on our roadways. It’s easy to see why. Buses carry high volumes of passengers. Federal officials note that they aren’t required to be constructed with common sense safety features like roof reinforcements that might help them withstand rollovers. Windows pop out easily. That might be a benefit, except that buses don’t typically have seat belts and so when an accident occurs, people are easily ejected, suffering injuries or death.
That buses lack basic safety features is not because officials have not tried to get them made mandatory. Forty-five years ago, an investigation of a bus accident in California that killed 19 individuals concluded that a lack of seat belts contributed to the high death toll.
Since then, the National Transportation Safety Board has issued repeated calls to make seat belts required. It has also urged better rollover protection and stronger windows. None have been put in place. That’s despite statistics that show that motorcoach rollovers account for about half of all bus fatalities and that some 70 percent of victims were ejected through window openings.
Last week, The New York Times reported that NTSB, which has no regulatory authority, pointed a finger at safety agencies that do. It said those agencies had failed to spot issues ahead of four crashes in the past year that claimed 25 lives and injured 83 people. All the crashes involved heavy trucks or intercity buses.
The NTSB says the accidents raise doubts about whether the Transportation Department is up to the task of fulfilling its oversight duties.
Source: Chron.com, “Seat belts on commercial buses delayed 45 years,” Joan Lowy, Nov. 13, 2013